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Market trends: A month full of surprises

Looking at the market shares of each segment in September shows some big surprises.

As you look down the table, things start off as expected – city cars and superminis saw their share drop in the aftermath of the scrappage scheme. That normally means that lower medium would increase share, as small cars and medium sized ones tend to balance each other out.

But no: Lower medium lost share, while upper medium was static and compact executive fell. You start to wonder who on earth is increasing share to compensate for all these losses.

The answer is executive, sports and SUVs. That pattern of selling more upmarket cars would normally be found in the middle of a boom, not in the month before the Government announced the biggest spending cuts since the Second World War, so what on earth is going on?

There is no doubt the luxury markets have recovered faster than expected – and not just for cars (the press has been full of recent stories of luxury brands in all sectors reporting strong growth). To take one example, Land Rover has increased sales YTD by more than 8,000 units. That means its additional sales are more than the total SUV sales of Toyota or VW – and the company fully expects next year’s Range Rover Evoque to boost sales a lot further.

It is a similar story in the executive segment. The new-ish Mercedes E-Class has added 9,000 sales year-to-date, but that does not mean other rivals have lost sales. In terms of units, if not market share, Audi, BMW and Jaguar have all increased volumes.

Meanwhile in small sports cars, the Peugeot RCZ has got off to a strong start – but the VW Scirocco has increased sales at the same time.

One interesting perspective on the growth of upmarket cars is what has been happening with city cars. It is true that penetration has fallen back, but less so than one would expect given the end of the scrappage incentive. It is still above 10%, far higher than it ever was pre-recession.

It is as if the scrappage scheme validated the concept of city cars – with so many of them being sold, they became respectable members of the automotive community. At a more general level, although lower medium is not going to be displaced as the heartland of the UK car market any time soon (and the new Focus will boost it next year), there is some evidence of polarisation. Distinctive small cars are doing well and distinctive SUVs are doing well – it is the middle ground that is currently suffering.

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